Engineering Discipline: Graduated in Mechanical Engineering, working in Software Development
Job Title: Senior Software Engineer
Current Place of Employment: Augustine Institute
Current Residence: Sycamore, IL
Hometown: Hamilton, IL
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (I-L-L!) and I studied mechanical engineering.
When did you decide you wanted to be an engineer?
Probably at the same time a lot of other engineers who didn’t have engineering in their family decided. In high school, my parents and teachers noticed I was doing really well in my math and science courses, and kept suggesting I look into engineering as a career path to pursue. Back then, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so it seemed as good a choice as any, especially considering I was good at math and science.
What drew you to become an engineer?
I knew that it involved building things and understanding how things work. Again, like many other engineers I grew up building all sorts of things with LEGOs and various other building toys. I also made projects out of deconstructing old broken electronics to see how they worked. All of this, plus the projected salary amount allowing me to support my family if God called me to marriage, seemed to suggest to me that I should at least try out engineering.
How did you choose your discipline?
University of Illinois is a family alma mater and I wasn’t looking to get too far away from home, so I basically looked at what engineering majors were offered there and chose what I thought interested me the most. I didn’t like the idea of designing roads or buildings, thought electrical was too complex, originally hated the idea of coding, and that left me with just a few options, among them mechanical engineering. The summaries for it all seemed pretty interesting to me, so I went ahead with it.
During my time at school though, I found that my initial dislikes were unfounded and I probably would have enjoyed any branch about as well as mechanical engineering. I took a particular liking to the computer science classes I took and considered minoring in it, but never pulled the trigger; my schedule was already loaded up as it was!
Eventually, I found a professional avenue to learning and working in software development, and I’ve enjoyed it much more than the brief time I spent as a mechanical engineer.
Can you give us a history of your career as an engineer?
While I was in school, I interned at John Deere as a manufacturing engineer and then Rockwell Automation as a sales engineer. Both companies were wonderful, but the particular jobs and the others that I saw at those companies didn’t appeal to me like I thought they would when I pursued them.
My senior year, I managed to land a job as a mechanical design engineer at Microsoft, working on an undisclosed project out in Redmond, WA. I moved out to Washington from Illinois (which, as a 22-year old man involved shipping 4 large boxes out and jumping on a plane) and began to learn how to design electronics housing for mass manufacturing. Side note that’s slightly important later: I was engaged right before graduation and got married the following spring.
About 3 months in, my group announced they were moving around 25 people to the Surface group, and that I was one of them (the entire group dissolved and moved people a few months after that). My new role in Surface was as a thermal test engineer, which did not appeal to me. However, HR pleaded with me to at least give it a try, and, as a brand-new engineer with little to no contacts at the company and nothing concrete to show work-wise, I felt stuck. My job dissatisfaction coupled with my wife and I wanting to move closer to home prompted me to look for another role.
As I was looking, a college friend announced that a little Catholic start-up company called Lighthouse Catholic Media (they had the kiosks full of CDs and books in the back of churches) was hiring software developers. Even though I had no experience, they gave me an interview and eventually hired me. We moved back to Illinois and I began learning on the job, or rather, “drinking from a firehose”. Over the course of the next year I became an acceptable enough developer to take on a lead role for FORMED.org, which is where I am still today, as an employee of the Augustine Institute.
What do you do for a job now?
I’m a senior software engineer at the Augustine Institute working on FORMED.org. My days are spent leading a small, but growing team of developers to continue advancing this platform for the New Evangelization. We do all of the typical software development jobs (new features, bug fixes, maintenance) along with quite a bit of server administration. About half of my time is working with the code directly and the other half is strategic planning/meetings/program management that keep the rest of the team running. I definitely don’t do it all myself though, I have great support from both the team I lead and the team of executives that is above us.
Can you tell us about any cool projects you’re working on now?
FORMED.org is pretty cool, though I sometimes forget about how cool it is when I spend every working hour of every day of every week picking through its problems. Originally it was launched as a streaming platform designed for parishes to be able to give access to the best Catholic content to their parishioners, kind of like a Catholic version of Netflix. Since then, it’s expanded to include the FORMED Marketplace which now makes the platform a bit more like Amazon Instant Video. There’s much more coming over the next year. It’s really cool to be working directly on a product who’s entire purpose is to evangelize and give evangelists the tools they need to better evangelize. I never really thought that I’d be working for the Church in any capacity in my life, but here I am as an engineer on FORMED!
Can you tell us about your faith journey?
My childhood and teenage years planted seeds that didn’t really begin to sprout until I got to college. In those earlier years, I was pretty much obligated to participate in the Church as my grandpa is a Deacon and my parents made a point of going to Mass every Sunday. I went to various service camps (Catholic Heart Workcamp being the main one) and participated in local community projects, but never really internalized the faith.
When I got to college, I was blessed to live at Newman Hall, which is the Newman Center for UIUC, except it’s also a dorm where over 600 students live on campus. My freshman year started watering the seeds that had been planted, but still, I went on just kind of passing through everything around me, though now I was considering trying to break into this new, deep, rich world of Catholicism. Over the course of my sophomore and junior years in college, this consideration turned into actively pursuing the faith. I didn’t have an ‘ah ha!’ moment that I can recall, but a very gradual transition filled with many, many failures (continuing to this day!).
After college it’s gotten much more interesting. Marriage and children completely changed the ways in which I tried to live out my faith. When it was just me, I only had myself to worry about. I could put aside time when I wanted to pray or study various aspects of the faith and not impact anyone else. Having a family is completely different. To help with this transition (especially from married to married with a child), I sought out a spiritual director shortly after my son was born. He’s a local priest and has been amazing at not focusing on just me, separate from my family, but bringing my vocation as a husband and a father into the spiritual direction, integrating it and making sure that suggestions and experiments for going deeper in the faith fit into family life.
My wife has also played a key role in my formation. She’s an amazing woman and has always been there to openly and honestly discuss the various struggles and challenges that have presented themselves throughout our relationship. I’m lucky to have found a woman who truly wants to live out her vocation of helping me to be a saint!
I’m still a work in progress for sure and I mess up all the time, but I keep trying to learn from my mistakes and take each new challenge in stride.
Has your faith played a part in your work as an engineer?
My faith is why I work where I work right now. Every day we start meetings in prayer, and there’s opportunity for rosary and the chaplet and Eucharistic adoration, as well as Mass occasionally in our chapel. I feel really spoiled and try to not take it for granted.
Outside of that obvious dimension to my work, my faith is always prompting me in how I interact with my co-workers and how I handle the many frustrations that come with the job (like any job).
Are there any stories you have that illustrate that connection?
When I was first hired by the Augustine Institute, I flew out to Colorado to spend a few days with my new boss and brainstorm ideas for the future. One of the core concepts we focused on was how to make it very obvious that this is a Catholic team. Not just a team working on Catholic things, but a team that vibrantly lives out the faith through the example of how they work. We haven’t perfected it, but we’ve certainly tried to practice some of the ideas we came up with. I just think it’s awesome that out of all of the things that we could’ve brainstormed about, we were discussing how to benefit the team (and indirectly the company and the world) by emphasizing the how was just as important as the what.
Has your work as an engineer played a part in your faith?
I would say it’s brought out in me a more methodical approach to testing everything and seeing if things are reasonable. Catholicism doesn’t tell you to just believe everything blindly; it prompts you to do the exploration yourself and study and find reasonable explanations for things. Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ is a great example of following questions to their reasonable solutions, though I’m sure there are plenty of people reading who would have critiques.
What is your life like as an engineer practicing your faith in the day to day?
Again, I feel completely spoiled because my work day has the faith baked into it at regular intervals. To go deeper daily, I really have to focus on how I can be a reflection of Christ with the people that I work with, because no matter what job you have, there are always difficult people to work with and there are always frustrating situations that arise that call for charity.
What advice would you give to young engineers who are passionate about their faith and want to live a life of virtue as an engineer or make a difference in the world?
The advice is strikingly similar to advice that may be given to young professionals in general, but it still applies if you view it with a perspective on your faith life and how you integrate it into your professional life: Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled; the Church is countercultural, so don’t go with the crowd. Be different and stand out (in a good way, like Matthew 5:16)!
Is there anything else you’d like to share? Anything you wish you had heard as a high school student or a college student?
As a high school or college student I wish I would have trusted God more with the direction of my life instead of worrying about it. There’s a great (shortened) quote from St. Augustine that speaks to this point: “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” So make sure God is prioritized first in your life, and then stop worrying about whether you’re discerning God’s will correctly for yourself! This doesn’t mean to not go through a process of discernment. Rather, it means don’t worry or be anxious about the process or the decision once you make it.
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